Archive for the News Category

Free Fiction Friday: Bellamorte by Alex S. Johnson

Posted in News with tags , , , on November 20, 2015 by Alex S. Johnson


by Alex S. Johnson

Rising from her bath, Bellamorte took a moment to regard herself in the oval silver and jewel-framed mirror that stood in the east-facing corner of the tiny hut in the woods. Beside the fireplace hung the copper basin in which she’d heated the water.

Vanity, her good stepmother had called it. Self-regard, a sin for which the consequences were death. Yet, good as she was, Clarissa allowed it nevertheless.

She was convinced, bless her dear soul, that Bellamorte would eventually see the error of her ways and accept the true Savior.

Amazingly enough, all it took was a blush and a bowed head, simple words of a contrition she would never feel, for Clarissa to believe that her stepdaughter was headed down the true path. Give her time, and she would come around to righteousness.

Righteousness, yes.  For Bellamorte, this was her fine 18-year-old figure, droplets of water glistening in the firelight. Miniature echoes of her full breasts, womanly hips and dark thatch. Her waist-length, straight raven hair. Subtly Asiatic eyes.

Her younger sister, Donella, had not been as understanding. Donella clung to her prayerbook and her Bible like talismans. She lectured and read aloud from the volumes the village priest had given her.

Probably for a stiff price, smirked Bellamorte.

But Donella had been dealt with. Sternly, but more mercifully than she deserved. Bellamorte would never stoop to the cruelty of the priest and his kind.

She stoked the fire again with the poker and threw in a sprinkle of the rust-red powder from the pearl-colored sachet.

The fire snapped and sparkled. For a moment, a face appeared in a burst of grey smoke: the Lady of the Castle.

Her face was white as snow and her lips a rich scarlet. Long dark ringlets gathered on her shoulders.

Her eyes: terrible and beautiful at the same time, like the sweet tongues of Hell.

Fair Lady, I will be with thee soon.

Thoroughly toweling herself off, Bellamorte scooped a handful of the unguent–a clear gel that smelled of burning leaves, blood and opium–and carefully applied it, first to her forehead, then her shoulder blades, her breasts, and further south.

Her skin tingled, and at first a strawberry rash burst from the places she had touched. Then the rash receded and the slow bloom of ecstasy traveled in two directions: up her spine and down her flesh.

Deeper down. Crosswise.

Acorus vulgare, Verspertillionis sanguinem, Solanum somniferum, boiled together in oil. Indian Hemp and stramonium. To bind it, the blood and fat of night birds.

Then the charm was firm and good.

Outside the virgin snow spread across the countryside. Stars like diamonds studded the night sky. The moon was pregnant and about to give birth.

Bellamorte reached for the dress, a magnificent creation in violet: shot silk, with a ruffled collar, lacy puffed sleeves, low-cut decolletage, silver hem. She rolled the white silk stockings over her knees. Then the burgundy shoes.

The hut was ever so quiet.

Ever so peaceful.

And she looked and smelled and felt like Magic.

But she was losing time. The Lady was very strict about her new appointments, and Bellamorte did not wish to disappoint.

Gathering together her offerings of love, Bellamorte placed them in the wicker basket and covered it with a blue cloth. She plucked the half-eaten apple from the rude wooden shelf her grandfather had built and took a big bite. The sugar rushed through her bloodstream like living flame.

Now she would go.

She spun before the fire, counterclockwise, stamping out the rhythms of the Rede on the tamped earthen floor.

Bellamorte took one last look around the cottage. Her sister, stepmother and father, still as statues on the hay-stuffed cots. Three gifts for the Lady.

She pulled the thick woolen shawl around her shoulders and poked her head out the doorway, through the apron of cured leather.

Sniffed the air, the clean early-morning scent of nothing.

And bid farewell to the hut in the forest forever.

Kbatz: Price and Poe Double Feature!

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2015 by kbattz

The Masque of The Red Death and The Premature Burial Make for a Spooky, Smart Double Feature

By Kristin Battestella

In my never-ending search for quality horror, I often turn to the classics. I was pleased to find that two of my favorites The Masque of Red Death and The Premature Burial were available on one DVD. Corman, Poe, Price- Horror Heaven!

Ruthless and satanic Prince Prospero (Price) takes crops from the local villages and burns those carrying the dreaded Red Death plague. He abducts the lovely, devout peasant girl Francesca (Jane Asher) and takes her back to his castle. Other nobles are also gathering at the castle under Prospero’s offer to wait out the Red Death with evenings of pleasure, masquerades, and debauchery. Part of his entertainment includes the diminutive Hop Toad (Skip Martin, Circus of Fear) and his little ballerina Esmeralda (Verina Greenlaw, The Six Wives of Henry VIII), but Prospero’s satanic mistress Juliana (Hazel Court) has no time for dances or Francesca-as she is preparing to become a bride of Satan. These demonic delights are all going to Prospero’s plans-until the Red Death incarnate crashes his decadent party.


As you can tell, I’ve seen my share of spooky flicks and Price pictures. Perhaps not as well known today, The Masque of The Red Death is my favorite of the Poe series from director Roger Corman. This 1964 treat has all the big budget looks one could ask for. It’s gothic, dark, demonic-yet the candle light, colors, and castle sets are a real treat. The costumes look perfectly medieval-the men as well as the ladies. I could say The Masque of The Red Death is a costumed, epic spectacle if not for the macabre subject matter.

Charles Beaumont (The Twilight Zone) and R. Wright Campbell (Man of a Thousand Faces) skillfully weave Poe’s tale of disease, death, and comeuppance with a touch from his lesser know ‘Hop-Frog’ tale and create a charming and yet dreadfully spooky movie. Poe is well known for his obsessions with death and burial, but the core of The Masque of The Red Death is unique. These prideful and gluttonous subjects fear death, sure-but that doesn’t stop their cruel and deceitful, devilish ways. Religion is only touched upon briefly, but the iconic notion of Death itself entering among the naughty and taking its tally strikes the audience on multiple levels. Do we really see Death when we are so close to it? Do we all walk such a finite yet intimate line with disease and punishment? Visually desensitizing, slash and sex and gore, modern horror can’t compare with Corman’s visual interpretations of Poe.


I know Vincent Price has a reputation for being over the top-as in The Pit and the Pendulum for example; but he’s relatively suave and subdued here. We’ve seen him in many periods and styles, but the outlandish hats, plumes, and color still look good on Price. He doesn’t seem out of place amid demonic castles and masked parties. We believe his Prospero is kinky, vicious, and deadly-but we’re awed when Death comes along and steals the show. Perhaps Price has more famous roles; but for my money, he is his best here. Likewise, Vincent’s vixens look devilishly good. Horror queen Hazel Court (The Curse of Frankenstein) shows her bosom and her satanic ways with a bizarre mix of charm and grace. We shouldn’t like the dark lady doing nasty rituals and marrying the devil, but Court’s beauty and ethereal style are delightful. Not to be outdone, angelic ex-Paul McCartney flame Jane Asher (Alfie, Crossroads) rivals Court with her white gowns and youthful devotion. We want her to keep her innocent naiveté, but we also don’t expect her righteousness to win out.

The Masque of The Red Death is a rarity in horror pictures because it achieves serious social commentary about the corrupt aristocracy, death, and how the evil get their due- all this along with plenty of scares and onscreen mayhem. Some might be offend by the devilish imagery, but horror fans and classic enthusiasts need to love this macabre, yet idealistic picture. Of course, 1962’s The Premature Burial is by no means merely the back end of a double bill. Technicalities at American International Pictures unfortunately leave us without our regular Poe man Vincent Price, and I think The Premature Burial is a little unloved because of this. However, Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell (The Man with the X-Ray Eyes) again craft an intellectual analysis from Poe’s tale of death and fear.


Guy Carrell (Ray Milland) fears his family history of catalepsy and builds a complex and technological tomb to prevent himself from being buried alive. His wife Emily (Hazel Court) and sister Kate (Heather Angel, Suspicion) disagree in how to support Guy’s fears, yet stop his building obsessions. Guy turns away from his involved tomb so Emily won’t leave him, but death and family history soon catch up to him.

More than a fine, if surprising, substitute, Oscar winner Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend, Markham, It Happens Every Spring) is delightful as the intelligent Victorian gentleman who becomes obsessed with being buried alive. His extreme, exhaustive precautions are understandable, logical, and well thought out; but somehow, we still know this is all askew, maniacal, and preposterous. Milland is quieter than Price, never quite boiling over as we expect him to. In away, his buttoned performance is bound, trapped inside the coffin Guy so desperately fears.


Once again, Hazel Court is lovely and charming as Guy’s ambiguous wife Emily. We believe she cares for Guy’s state of mind-and yet she’s too lovely and youthful to put up with his deadly ideas, isn’t she? The Premature Burial gives us more exceptional dresses-but this time we are bespectacled with hefty hoop skirts and Victorian delicacies. Though black and white, Corman gives us a fine production of mood and atmosphere. We don’t often see such proper costumes in a low-end horror picture, but all the creepy graveyards, fog, smoke, and mirrors make their presence known, too.

The Premature Burial is again a picture that might not be fore everyone. It’s slow, deliberate examination of death might be frustrating and too close to home for some. Even though we’re beyond the days of rampant plagues erroneously burying people alive and Victorian occultists trying to cheat death, this is still an understandable, real fear not so far removed from society’s psyche. Both The Masque of the Red Death and The Premature Burial serve up a fine cast, intelligent scripting, period piece atmospheres, and plenty of spooks. These flicks have plenty of old time scares, but nothing majorly offensive- unlike today’s sex and slash flicks.


The dual DVD of The Masque of the Red Death and The Premature Burial is affordable enough, but again a little old and a pain to flip. Thankfully, we’re treated to a few nice conversations with Roger Corman chatting about this pair of Poe pictures. Horror enthusiasts and classic film fans should adore these two complex, scary tales each and every year.

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Xmoor

Posted in News with tags , , , on November 18, 2015 by notesfromtheauthor

In the wee hours of the morning of Sept 4th, 2015, Crystal Connor, took a break from her writing and watch a movie to help her wind down and get ready for bed.  For the next two hours her neighbors were subjected to screaming, crying, and expletive outburst…

This is the unedited journal chronicling the harrowing experience her neighbors were forced to endure as she watched, Luke Hyams 2014 X Moor


Reader discretion is Advised

Entry 1: He’s probably right

Entry 2: That’s a HUGE you are not welcome sign – please heed it.

Entry 3: When no one answers your hello it doesn’t mean you get to automatically go in Entry 4: warning #2

Entry 5: What the hell, is he like the comedic sidekick? You knew what you went there to do so why are you complaining?

Entry 6: A gun like that for hunting…I think not, I’mma go head and say he’s with the IRA

Entry 7: It’s a sacrificial mound

Entry 8: Ummm, excuse me! You’re the one who charged off blindingly into the dark and now you wanna demand a compass

Entry 9: Whatya mean now, you couldn’t do shit before

Entry 10: What an idiot

Entry 11: They are both starting to get on my nerves

Entry 12: They just walked right past him

Entry 13: OMFG this guy is as useful as a half a penny

Entry 14: This woman is unbelievably stupid.

Entry 15: Yeah, what the hell are you doing?

Entry 16: lol, of course

Plotline: A reward offered by a local newspaper brings documentary makers Matt and his girlfriend Georgia to the remote North Devon moor in a bid to capture the fabled Beast purported to be a wild cat, like a panther or a puma on film.

Who would like it: Monster hunter fans, people who love slasher and lost in the middle of the woods films.

Horror Level: 3

High Points: It starts off being about an American cryptozoologist who travels to Europe with her boyfriend in search of a big cat but quickly turns into something else as they realize there is a monster up there in the woods but just not the one they thought.

Complaints: The whole arrogant America aboard troupe rubs me the wrong way, it was a reoccurring theme throughout the movie, and the more it happened the more annoyed I became. I completely understand that when you’re tired, scared, and stressed its far to say you’re not thinking straight but even under those conditions but even still the choices they were making didn’t make any sense and just served to make things worse. The ending felted rushed and unfinished which made the ending unrealistic. In all honesty X Moor should have ended differently.

Overall: It has its ups and downs but this one just didn’t work for me

Stars: Almost 3

Where I watched it: Amazon Prime


Washington State native Crystal Connor has been terrorizing readers since before Jr. high School and loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys, rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high heel shoes & unreasonably priced hang bags. She is also considering changing her professional title to ‘dramatization specialist’ because it’s so much more theatrical than being just a mere drama queen. Crystal’s latest projects can be found both on her blog and Facebook fan page at:

Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!”

Press Release: Crystal Lake Publishing releases Horror 201: The Silver Scream

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , on November 17, 2015 by Horror Addicts Guest

Thorror 201 volume 1he definitive guide to filmmaking and filmmakers by the best in the field.

Horror 201: The Silver Scream, the follow-up to the Bram Stoker Award nominated Horror 101: The Way Forward, delves into the minds of filmmakers to see what it takes to produce great horror films, from the writing and funding process, to directing, producing, and writing tie-ins.

It’s a tome of interviews and essays by some of our favorite artists.
That’s right, film legends and authors such as Wes Craven, George A. Romero, Ray Bradbury, Ed Naha, Patrick Lussier, Stephen Volk, Nancy Holder, Tom Holland, John Shirley, William Stout, and John Russo want to share their expertise with you through informative, practical, career-building advice.

These are the folks behind movies and novelizations such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, Dark Shadows, Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural, Buffy, Resident Evil, The Stand, Sleepwalkers, Masters of Horror, The Fly, Critters, Tales from the Crypt, Child’s Play, Fright Night, Thinner, The Langoliers, Ted Bundy, Re-animator Unbound, Halloween, Apollo 18, The Eye, Night of the Living Dead, The Crow, The Mist, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Horror 201 also entertains. You’ll see a side of your favorite authors, producers, and directors never seen before – combining fun and entertainment with informative career-building advice.

Horror 201 is aimed at arming generations of authors, screenwriters, producers, directors, and anyone else interested in the film industry, from big budget movies to the independent film circuit, as well as the stage.

Whether you’re an accomplished author or screenwriter, writing as a hobby, or have dreams of writing screenplays or making movies, Horror 201 will take you on a behind the scenes tour of the Horror movie industry from Hollywood to the UK and Australia.

Horror 201 covers:

  • Horror as culture
  • Scare tactics
  • The evolution of the horror film
  • Viewer desensitization
  • Watching your story come to life
  • Screenwriting advice
  • Dissecting screenplays
  • A production company case study
  • Tricks of the trade
  • Writing tips
  • Advice on Producing
  • Advice on Directing
  • Information about funding and distributing a film
  • Entertaining tidbits and anecdotes

And so much more!

Horror 201: The Silver Scream is perfect for people who:

  • are looking to delve into screenplay writing
  • want to write their first screenplay
  • are fans of the horror movie industry
  • like to follow the careers of their favorite directors
  • are planning on infiltrating a different field in horror writing
  • are looking to pay more bills with their art
  • are trying to establish a name brand
  • are looking to get published
  • are looking for motivation and/or inspiration
  • are seeking contacts in the film industry

Edited by Joe Mynhardt and Emma Audsley.

The full line-up includes:

Wes Craven, George A. Romero, Ray Bradbury, Ramsey Campbell, Ed Naha, Edward Lee, Patrick Lussier, Tim Lebbon, Jonathan Maberry, Stephen Volk, William Stout, Michael McCarty, Dan Curtis, William Stout, Graham Masterton, Harry Shannon, Jason V. Brock, L.L. Soares, Mick Garris, William F. Nolan, Lee Karr, Stephen Johnston, Aaron Sterns, Michael Laimo, Jonathan Winn, David. C. Hayes, Brian Pinkerton, David Henson Greathouse, Aaron Dries, Armand Rosamilia, Billy Hanson, Jack Thomas Smith, John Russo, Mark Steensland, John Shirley, Tom Holland, Adrian Roe, Dave Jeffery, James Hart, James Cullen Bressack, Jeff Strand, Nancy Holder, E.C. McMullen Jr., Richard Gray, Richard Chizmar, William C. Cope (interior artist), Tim Waggoner, Tom Monteleone, Nick Cato, Kevin Wetmore, Eric Miller, and Lynne Hansen.

Don’t let this opportunity slip through your creative fingers.

“Being a part of Horror 201: The Silver Scream is almost as thrilling as having had my novels turned into feature films. After all, it’s not everyday one shares a TOC with George Romero, Wes Craven, and Mick Garris! This is a must have book for all writers looking to break into filmmaking.” – Michael Laimo

“No one teaches horror. As a student of terror, realizing just how useful it is in teaching how society works and is influenced, that is a shame. Horror 201 opens the door again, but be careful… you don’t know what lurks on the other side. The truth is scary.” – David C. Hayes

“With essays and interviews from the likes of John Carpenter, Richard Chizmar, Dan Curtis, Harry Shannon, Edward Lee and the late great Wes Craven, HORROR 201: THE SILVER SCREAM serves up prime cuts of fresh meat and raw broken bone for the palate of the discerning horror fiction and flick aficionado.” – Steve Vernon (author of Tatterdemon)

“As an in-depth look into what it takes to produce great horror films, we can think of no better resource on the market!” – Dave Jeffery & James Hart ( Award winning film makers from Venomous Little Man Productions)

“Horror 201: The Silver Scream will be seen as a landmark, the ultimate practical guide to horror filmmaking that will hopefully create and arm an entire generation of horror screenwriters and aspiring directors.” – Aaron Sterns

“Horror 201: The Silver Scream Vol.1 is chock-full of advice from many different artists associated with the movie industry. Tips on everything you need to know about the biz are included here: articles, history, music, screen writing, tricks of the trade, cultural and historic fears. They’re all here. And much more. There is never a one-fits all solution for anything, but this great tome will point you in the right direction. Crystal Lake Publishing is fast becoming the expert on all things horror.” – Blaze McRob

“A treasure of insights, anecdotes, and advice on the art and craft of horror films—from those who are in the trenches doing it. A must-read for fans and future filmmakers alike.” – Taylor Grant, Award-Winning Filmmaker, The Muse, Sticks & Stones, The Vanished

“The brilliance of Horror 201: The Silver Scream is how easily it blends the solid experience and unquestioned genius of experts like Wes Craven, George A. Romero and Ray Bradbury with the eager musings and possibly incoherent ramblings of relative newbies like me. Instead of a work penned solely by experts, we have instead a democratic microcosm of the industry. So for those who’ve often wondered how to bridge the divide between horror and Hollywood, they’re sure to find something — no matter how familiar they are with the ins-and-outs of the business — that speaks to them, answers their questions, and hopefully inspires them to take their next step. All in all, a fantastic read, a strong addition to an already famous series, and a great honor to be a part of.”  — Jonathan Winn, Martuk … the Holy, Eidolon Avenue (Crystal Lake Publishing, Jan 2016)

“Horror 201: The Silver Scream, a quasi-follow-up to Horror 101: The Way Forward, focuses squarely on the horror film industry. And similar to Horror 101, which deals with the art of writing horror, Horror 201 is a veritable grab bag of industry insiders’ encouragement and advice. You can dip in anywhere and discover pure gold and an unrestrained affection for the genre, although Joe Mynhardt has sensibly grouped the material he has garnered into logical sections such as ‘Screenwriting’ and ‘Novelisations’. Quite how he has managed it, I don’t know, but you will find here a proper treasure trove of goodies, including essays such as Scare Tactics: The Evolution of the Horror Film & Viewer DesensitisationHorror is Culture, and a tribute to Wes Craven, and interviews with John Carpenter, George A. Romero, and Wes Craven among others. An absolute must for fans of horror films and those who want to write, produce, or direct in the genre.” – John Kenny

“Horror 201 The Silver Scream is an eye-opening walkthrough in the wonderful world of filmmaking! This is perfect for the upcoming screenplay writer, film director, and everybody who loves a good horror movie! These pages hold essays, interviews, and endless knowledge for those looking to open their eyes and expand into this amazing craft. This isn’t just a book, it’s a gateway. A gateway to a vast universe hidden backstage with all the ins and outs, tips, tricks, and trades of the craft!” – Kya Aliana, author of the Vampiress series

“Horror 201: The Silver Scream is a milestone in horror history and filmmaking history. This invaluable collection will take you far and deep, thrusting you into the inside world of horror movies! Consider this book a beacon, calling out to you, guiding you through your craft and showing you the best way to go.” – Kya Aliana, author of the Vampiress series

“If you’ve ever wanted to go back stage or behind the scenes, now you do it from the comfort your couch, bed, or favorite lounge chair! Horror 201 brings an exciting aspect to world of horror – the ability to learn from the pros! This is a turning point in horror and film history, and will certainly continue to inspire, teach, and guide everyone who is involved in the industry!” – Kya Aliana, author of the Vampiress series



Horror Addicts Writer’s Workshop

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on November 16, 2015 by Emerian Rich

Horror Addicts Writer’s Workshop Announcement!

OPENS: October 1st, 2015, 11:59pm PST
December 31st, 2015, 11:59pm PST.

This is an opportunity for aspiring horror or like-genre writers to have their work critiqued by professional writers based on story structure, plot, style, and character development. One lucky writer will have their work produced for a show for Season 11 in 2016.

Submission criteria:

1)      This workshop is free

2)      You must state you if you are under 18 at the time of submission. We will not accept stories from children younger than 15.

3)      By submitting to the workshop, you are stating this work is yours and yours alone and that you may submit it legally without publication ties. The work cannot be previously published in any form.

4)      Stories must be Gothic, Horror, Steampunk, Clockpunk, Fetish, Dark Fantasy, Horror Romance, or have a horror element of some kind.

5)     All submissions must be emailed to no later than December 31st, 2015, 11:59pm PST.

6)      Submissions can be excerpts from a novel, up to 4,000 words, or can be a complete short story, no more than 4,000 words. Excerpts from a novel, can be any part of the novel, but a short (100 word) synopsis should accompany it.

7)      Manuscripts must be presented in the following format:

a)      Font size 10 or 12 point

b)      Font style Courier or Times New Roman

c)      Double spaced

d)      1st page header to state: author name, email address, type of story, and word count.

e)      Following pages header to state: author name, story name, and page number.

f)       Your manuscript must be in either DOC or RTF Format.

g)      No more than 4,000 words.

h)      In the body of the email, give us 100 words or less about you – a bio.

i)       In the subject of the email state: HA WRITER’S WORKSHOP

8)      We will review the first 20 manuscripts absolutely, after that, it is based on the number of pros available. Manuscripts are first come, first serve. If you do not receive an email stating your manuscript was received within two weeks, please send a polite query to:

9)      For any other questions, please leave a comment here or email:

Kbatz: Crimson Peak

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on November 15, 2015 by kbattz

I Really Like Crimson Peak!

by Kristin Battestella

crimson-peak-posterStruggling writer Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is quickly infatuated with Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) when the English baronet comes to Buffalo seeking investment in his proposed clay mining machine from Edith’s wealthy father Carter (Jim Beaver). The elder Cushing is skeptical of Sir Thomas and his stern older sister Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain), and Edith’s childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) also hopes to protect her from the Sharpes – even after Edith marries Sir Thomas and moves to the dilapidated Allerdale Hall. The Sharpe family estate is sinking into its clay making hopes, turning the snow red and making for some suspicious bumps, creaks, and groans in the night. The gifted Edith, however, can see the ghostly inhabitants of the so called Crimson Peak, and the phantoms help her unravel the mysterious secrets surrounding Thomas and Lucille’s gruesome family history…

A Gothic Throwback

My fellow horror enthusiasts know I had high anticipations for writer and director Guillermo Del Toro’s (Pan’s Labyrinth) latest film Crimson Peak for more than a year. Those horror aware also know the genre is quite diverse, with welcoming room for an R rated, sophisticated, Neo Victorian picture hearkening back to a Gothic Hammer glory. Unfortunately, it seems 21st century audiences are having trouble accepting Crimson Peak defined as a Gothic romance – perhaps due to both our limited perception of horror and a misrepresented modern romance genre. Today, romance publishers and big box bookstores categorize to meet readers’ expectations of escapism and happy ever after endings, and that’s certainly well and good for lighthearted literature fans. If you are looking for a tragic love story, however, you won’t find such Bronte bleak of old on the Harlequin shelf. Fortunately, Crimson Peak embraces this dark romanticism onscreen, filling the void where studios like nuHammer have faltered. Is Del Toro the new Bava ala The Whip and the Body? Who is the next Corman with a star like Price and a source like Poe? Television is catching on to the innate no cellphones and lack of technological convenience scares in this kind of period horror, where hours can be taken for the pot boiling macabre instead of the jump scare gimmicks a minute now expected in today’s formulaic horror movies. Classic horror heavyweights like Alien or Psycho know how to provide crossover appeal alongside an escalating slow tingle – and leave creepy memories long after the story ends. Have we forgotten how to watch the simmering scares from fifty years ago? Poor Guillermo has to repeatedly predicate that Crimson Peak is a Gothic romance every time he talks about it, and the faster audiences realize we need this kind of quality throwback horror the better.

Crimson Peak is spooky, sure, but that doesn’t mean it will be a modern by the numbers slasher – a relatively recent horror style compared to the tawdry Victorian melodrama likewise found in Penny Dreadful. Heck, an American heiress with a hefty dowry is so Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers it’s downright Downton Abbey. The slightly unreliable narrator bookends in Crimson Peak allow for dime novel embellishment complete with a halo of light when the tall, dark, and handsome stranger enters and a sweeping sunlight backdrop for the first kiss of a whirlwind romance. Gasps over a shocking waltz, a scandalous slap at a dinner party, somber siblings obviously up to no good, a ridiculous “By the time you read this, I will be gone…” letter – the soap opera framework in Crimson Peak is not meant to be a surprise. If Crimson Peak was supposed to be a terror a minute horror movie meeting current expectations, the final half hour of perilous, slice and dice, house mazes and pursuits would have happened much sooner, eliminating everything before Edith crosses the threshold at Allerdale Hall. Instead, most of the shock scenes and scary moments in Crimson Peak were erroneously revealed in the trailers (more on that later), and the spoon fed, sheep viewing mentality of brainwashed American viewers blinds us from Crimson Peak’s pay attention to detail requirements. Here murderous intentions, gory deaths, period accessories, marital unease, discomforting familial twists, and an increasing sense of household dread break the accustomed. Crimson Peak is set in 1901 – the real shock here is why anyone ever thought a Victorian piece was going to be like a contemporary splatter-fest. I don’t expect millennials to love old Mexican horrors such as The Witch’s Mirror or The Curse of the Crying Woman, but my goodness, hasn’t anybody seen a Vincent Price movie?!

Our Heroines

Edith Cushing herself reiterates her manuscript isn’t a ghost story but a story with ghosts in it. She balks at the idea of including a love subplot just because she is female, would rather be a widow than a spinster, and although she is an incredibly observant writer, Edith is not exactly street smart when it comes to people. Mia Wasikowska is delightfully wide eyed to open Crimson Peak, a Jo March dreamer unfulfilled in her big house with servants, progressive gaslight, and new automobiles. Edith knows nothing of love, ignores her father’s warnings, and stupidly falls for the first baronet who bothers to read her story. She is manipulated by the Sharpes from the start and is too swept up to care when Thomas’ love letter arrives. Granted, the character is an audience avatar, as Edith herself doesn’t realize she is backed into the corner of a proverbial horror movie until the final act. Some viewers may even perceive her as starting smart but becoming cliché once she reaches Allerdale Hall. However, Crimson Peak shows Edith gaining practical experience for her literary license for the first time in her life. We may have more clues about the situation then she does, but there is an audience joy in seeing her piece together the spooky mystery with some fantastic help and ghostly metaphors. It’s no coincidence that the star of Jane Eyre is cast here in Crimson Peak, and Wasikowska has both the period poise and ingenue naivete needed to anchor all Edith’s facets. Viewers may not have expected an empowering female path of discovery in Crimson Peak, but Edith blossoms from worrying about if her handwriting is too feminine to taking matters into her own hands. She faces her phantom fears, explores Allerdale Hale for her own revelations, takes charge in her marital life, and defends herself when her new husband and sister-in-law aren’t the family she thought they would be. Brava!

Likewise, the dark haired Jessica Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) is the delightfully Mrs. Danvers villain of Crimson Peak. Lucille has spent most of her life in Allerdale Hall’s attic, festering and hording from childhood to adult, appreciating the looming bugs in the manor and dressing like a dated matching décor to the collapsing dwelling. Even Lucille’s pointy, medieval-esque cloak matches the spires of Allerdale Hall when she is apart from it! Past abuses suggest she bore the brunt of her father’s wrath and had to remain strong in caring for her ill mother – but unfortunately, Lucille has taken her stalwart to extremes and she enjoys it. As the older sibling, she took her brother under her ignoble wing, nurturing a warped maternal instinct. Her calculated way of cooking, pouring tea, and serving porridge with a scraping spoon has been wound up one too many times a la Suspicion, and Lucille is one night away from flinging the pots – or worse – if any Notorious keys are out of her control. In her eyes, she has witnessed, endured, and personally ensured the family legacy enough times to be the lady of the house – and maintains her sociopathic control by plucking the wings from butterflies who come too close. Lucille has earned her title and takes Crimson Peak with her via the hefty, binding red gown symbolic of the blood she has shed for Allerdale Hall. We hurt the ones we love the most, right? Insect ensigns, poisoning inside and out, and a devouring hierarchy reflect Lucille’s twisted idea of love, and this is an impressive, commanding, in charge turn by Chastain. Lucille objects to the blonde, young, and vibrant Edith, taking her innocent, sisterly affection as a foreign threat to her domineering establishment. This is her own trapped, repressed, playing house little world – Lucille has everything to loose and will do anything to keep her status quo. She may be lonely and wanting of love, but when we finally see Lucille’s room, her almost scientific collection, and justified in her own mind do what must be done actions, it’s a scary, gut wrenching finale with no cheap jump shockers needed.


The Gentlemen

In retrospect, it’s understandable that the predatory sexy crawl so prominently displayed in the Crimson Peak trailers was trimmed, as Sir Thomas Sharpe is not a strong male, but instead sways like a child with whichever way the dominating women in his life tell him to be. This is not Victorian Loki or a mischievous master manipulator; Sir Thomas is a meek follower wearing a dreamy, too good to be true facade as it suits his sister’s plans. He knowingly reads Edith’s story and plays into her sweeping ideals – foreshadowing a turnabout conflict and the heavy choices to be made if he would but accept his part in this play. Thomas may be charming, but his engineering dreams, stunted adolescence, and misplaced loyalties keep him small and easily corrupted. He has been molded like the very clay he is trying to harvest and his idyllic attempts to improve Allerdale Hall only perpetuate his out of touch, leaving him in his high up but still sinking workshop playing with symbolic toy marionettes. His top hat is too big for him, borrowed and behind the times. His sister has the house keys and rules the roost, and he’s okay with that routine – until Edith. Soon Thomas realizes that his inventions may not save Allerdale Hall, he is deluded by the price he pays to keep Crimson Peak, and now there could be a brighter future elsewhere. He admires Edith’s creativity and genuine put on the page, however, when he shouts that she is sentimental, weak, and knows nothing of life and real love, is he really angry at himself? Yes, Thomas is sympathetic, but the explanation behind his character arc doesn’t make him any less culpable for his actions. He may question, but backs down and does what he’s told – clueless on how to craft change. Despite the scene chewing in Crimson Peak, Hiddleston is superb in using his eyes and stolen glances to show Thomas’ inner turmoil and emotional spectrum – feelings the baronet himself probably doesn’t know how to express. Too late he accepts his own accountability, maturing only after he realizes what real love with Edith is like compared to the monstrous of Crimson Peak. Ironically, audiences going into Crimson Peak with starry eyes and Marvel comparisons may be missing Hiddleston’s finely layered and nuanced character discovery. I personally enjoy his unrestricted, non-Disney/Marvel pushing the envelope serious more, and unlike most modern actors, he looks delicious in period garb. For Crimson Peak, his Peter Cushing Force is strong, and I’d love to see Hiddleston be this century’s go to period horror star – or you know, a young Grand Moff Tarkin in a Star Wars prequel!

I’m less familiar with Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam, but his accent and hairstyle feel too 21st century out of place in Crimson Peak. Some viewers may find Alan behaves too stupidly for supposedly being such a smart doctor and feel the character wooden and superfluous all together. However, rather than being the solid fourth corner of a leading quartet, Dr. McMichael is fittingly reserved as a solid supporting role and sounding board workhorse. Alan provides exposition, information, or choice as needed to advance Edith’s story while serving as a one-sided, would be romantic antagonism as the plot requires. Edith is not interested in the good doctor as anything more than a friend – she is initially unaware he is back in Buffalo and doesn’t send him follow up letters from England – but the virtuous blonde trying to be a hero trope must be present to counter the dark and mysterious stranger nonetheless. In films of old we could balk at such a stereotypical strong chinned insert, but rightly motivated as he may be, Alan isn’t always successful in his deeds, making room for a few surprises and more gender reversal in Crimson Peak. Likewise Jim Beaver (Supernatural, Deadwood) is superb as Crimson Peak’s period piece patriarch. With his staunch ideas on tough work versus easy aristocracy and protecting his daughter’s chances for a respectable match – not a career with a typewriter – he’s still living in the last century. Unlike the Sharpes, however, Carter’s motivations, cautions, and affection are well placed with hard evidence and get out of my town demands. Despite his gruff exterior and seemingly harsh actions, everything Cushing does is in tenderness for his daughter as an extension of his legacy. Women of this era were controlled by the male nearest them, and Edith is supposed to stay young and innocent and take care of him until he chooses, correct? Beaver’s final scene is wonderfully well done – gruesome, suspenseful, immediately visceral, and most effective. Not to mention the newfangled pen he gifts Edith comes in handy for more than just literary pursuits!


A Lavish Attempt

Crimson Peak excels with its splendid look, lush costumes, and freaky ghost effects with a score both whimsical with possibility to start and ominous orchestral to match the colorful Dickensian on acid design. Meant to represent blood on the hands, manifestations of worse human horrors, and linger as symbolic wallpaper rather than be a scary antagonist, the ghosts of Crimson Peak mirror the titular clay and sinking family home, struggling to crawl and keep afloat as they woefully lend a hand. Early photography with phantoms captured in the negative also parallels this unfinished business while vintage typewriters, gramophones, round spectacles, and dangerous elevators accent the turn of the century setting. Opening and closing iris wipes marking each chapter hearken to the early horror film making industry to come, too. While Edith is adorned in flashy soon to be Edwardian designs, the Sharpes are notably dressed in the previous generation’s older Victorian fashions to indicate how their living in the past has outlived any usefulness. Lucille’s dress is of dead leaves and moth motifs – a perpetually bitter autumn with tattered, frayed trims compared to the sparkling butterfly combs in Edith’s hair. Part of the fun in watching Crimson Peak is looking for the butterflies in Edith’s scenes, and I love the slightly cthulhu ring on the ladies. Fittingly, the fancy frocks are stripped down by the end of Crimson Peak – raw nightgowns and simplicity reflect the film’s color progression from a golden patina to sinister blue, sickly green, and finally, a black and white snowscape with shocks of red clay and blood spilled. Whatever else audiences may think of Crimson Peak, the visual achievements and stunning design of the fully built and beautifully realized Allerdale Hall with all her nooks and crannies are certainly deserving of technical recognition and awards. Yes, I would live there!

Of course, that’s not to say that Crimson Peak isn’t without any flaws. The pacing is odd with perhaps too much of the early, over the top but rushed period drama and a wavering timeline. The Sharpes have been society entertaining for long enough to be known and friendly to the McMichaels, implying they have planned their groundwork carefully. However, in a century sans internet, Carter Cushing’s investigation happens way too fast. Mercenary pinkertons, the new Google! Return passage to England is largely skipped, but a map overlay like Indiana Jones or a Demeter type ship montage may have helped anchor the weeks in between what appears to be a very fast funeral and wedding – a throwaway sentence mentioning a supposedly respectful mourning wait doesn’t say enough. The duration at Allerdale Hall is also unclear, with Edith left alone, ignored, and free to explore for what seems like days. How long do the Sharpes’ plans usually take? Medical ills or miraculous heals come and go as needed, and travel in the snowstorm is conveniently easy for one on foot or difficult for a carriage as the plot requires. Again, maybe these time jumps are meant to be part of the Victorian manuscript play within a play melodrama at work, and a certain amount of rapid soap opera time can be forgiven. Though the near two hour time is pleasing, some poor editing leaves important backstory and family history unclear and most likely left on the cutting room floor, and ironically, the practical ghost effects alone look better than the CGI bells and whistles they receive. Hopefully, we’ll have plenty of deleted scenes and making of treats on the video release! The over the top moments here are enjoyable, too, but Crimson Peak can be inadvertently humorous at times, compromising the slow burn mystery and sinister brainwashing calculations with a false tame. A dangerous mining machine is also shown injuring someone but becomes a non-factor later, and if audiences are taking the ghosts at face value rather than metaphorically, the specters can seem convenient or even unnecessary. There’s enough suspense when Edith finds evidence on her own, and if one ghost can tell her to “Beware of Crimson Peak,” then why can’t the recently late ghosts with all the facts do the same? Indeed, several layers, why fors, and character biographies that should have remained to strengthen the somewhat thin script with meaty dialogue for the on form cast instead seem relegated to online content and companion literature. This annoying supplemental trend is only made more frustrating when the trailers, clips, and behind the scenes footage reveal glimpses of those extra moments that didn’t make it into the film.


But Marketing Amiss

I confess, Crimson Peak is one of those rare films where I’ve started my review document before seeing the picture, largely due to my thoughts on the sometimes genius but mostly overkill and misfiring marketing campaign. Despite my attempt to avoid spoilers, there was still too much “I see what you did there” online promotion with crafty gifs and the sharing of fan art on Crimson Peak’s official instagram and tumblr media. Twitter question and answer hashtags with cast and crew repeated amid an infinite number of five minute or less interviews and press days where every reporter asked the same trite sound bite questions. For those times when watching Hiddleston interviews is like a potato chip and you can’t watch just one, it was a surprisingly obvious but shrewd move to play the Crimson Peak ads on Youtube before this related content. Along with all the television spots and billboards, there are Crimson Peak books, calendars, perfumes, and even jewelry on the Home Shopping Network. These efforts, however, generally cater to young viewers expecting cheap horror slashers and jump scare frights, belying that Crimson Peak is a Gothic romance more about the dread and macabre of old. Naturally, this audience was miffed when Crimson Peak deviated from the anticipated formula presented in the trailers, and the erroneous mass appeal horror marketing backfired with a fifty percent box office fall in the second release week because movie goers told their friends that they were promised one film but were given something else instead. Unfortunately, the millennial viewing public should also be Hello Mcflyied for tweeting spoilers as they happened on opening night – I’d hate to see The Sixth Sense released today! If Crimson Peak had half as many clips and dropped either the twitter or tumblr teasing but kept the Crimson Peak Awaits online game, enough mystery as to what it actually contained within would have lured just as well as the marketing deception. Then, the campaign becomes an interactive discovery with out of context clues and photos that don’t give away all of Crimson Peak’s secrets – or abundant spoon fed misinformation – and if you want more, why, here’s the film itself!


Do See!

Crimson Peak is how Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows should have been, but sadly, because of the poor marketing and unjustified but underwhelming audience return, the potential for more old school horror films like Crimson Peak may have been irrevocably squashed. As to my first Wednesday morning cinema experience, there were only a few other people attending. There were more on a second Monday afternoon, but really, the cell phone lights going off and being checked every five minutes? Let it go. Despite a ridiculous twenty minutes of trailers eating into the actual movie time, some such as Star Wars, Victor Frankenstein, and Krampus are cinema-going worthy. Spoilers, mismarketing, and the contemporary inability to go into a picture cold aside, Crimson Peak has more than enough revelations locked up in its attic to enjoy – and more than once for full effect. There is definitely an overlooked audience for this kind of Phantom of the Opera meets Jane Eyre not Saw film to whom the industry should be happy to cater. I want to see Crimson Peak again and can’t wait to have it on video if only to do a drinking game every time someone says “Cushing.” Sure, viewers may be disappointed that the paranormal in Crimson Peak is not paramount and often predictable. Fortunately, it’s easy to get over any period piece viewing problems or uneven editing flaws thanks to a refreshingly adult approach, oh no she didn’t melodrama, and splendid gasp inducing macabre carried by the haunting visuals and spirited ye olde performances.


Book Review: BirdBox by Josh Malerman

Posted in News with tags , , , on November 14, 2015 by Lisa "The Body Bag Betty" Vasquez

Bird Box by Josh Malerman was given to me to read when he was nominated for the Bram Stoker’s award. So I did not purchase it, initially. When I finished it, I bought the book because it was that amazing.

I really like Orson Welles, and Alfred Hitchcock stories like The Birds, Vertigo, etc. Bird Box easily fit into the chair right next to these masters. There was just enough pull of tension and “sh*t! What the (bleep) is out there!” to keep me strung through to the very end. Not once did I skim through to rush the story. The pace was even and consistent. The imagery was beautiful and dreary. The suspense was killer (no pun intended).

As a book cover designer, this cover is also worthy of a 5 skull rating. Beautiful, enjoyable book all around.

If I could give this higher than 5 skulls I would, it is that good.

Synopsis: Written with the narrative tension of The Road and the exquisite terror of classic Stephen King, Bird Box is a propulsive, edge-of-your-seat horror thriller, set in an apocalyptic near-future world—a masterpiece of suspense from the brilliantly imaginative Josh Malerman.

Something is out there . . .

Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now, that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey—a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motely group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos. But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside—and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted?

Interweaving past and present, Josh Malerman’s breathtaking debut is a horrific and gripping snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.



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